The family name of Wilberforce comes from the extraordinary lives of two English men, a father who was a British statesman and the son a clergyman of the Church of England. William Wilberforce born at Hull on August 24, 1759, and studied at Cambridge University. His greatest contribution in history and to human relations was that he led the fight to abolish the slave trade and slavery in the British Empire. In 1780, he entered the Parliament and became a leading Tory, noted for his eloquence. In 1786, Thomas Clarkson asked him to join in attacking slavery in the West Indies. The reformers decided to attack the slave trade first. Wilberforce, supported by William Pitt, led the first campaign in Parliament in 1789. The bill to end the slave trade passed the House of Commons in 1792, but failed in the House of Lords. In that same year, Denmark became the first nation to put a stop to the slave trade. Clarkson and Wilberforce continued their campaign to persuade the British government to pass a bill against the slave trade. When such a bill became law in 1807, Wilberforce turned against slavery itself. He retired from Parliament in 1825, but continued to support emancipation. Finally in 1833, slavery was abolished in all British colonies with the passing of the Emancipation Bill, one month after Wilberforce died. Wilberforce had such compassion and conviction of the injustice brought about in an injustice world that he was compelled to write the book Real Christianity. This amazing book published in 1797 changed the world and the affects of slavery upon the Christian and non-Christian that the slave trade was put to a halt. What Wilberforce had set out to accomplish had come to past. His hope to make all human beings free became a reality. The affect of Wilberforce’s efforts made it across the world to the United States. In March of 1807, the United States prohibited further importation of slaves after Jan. 1, 1808. This act legally ended the overseas trade in slaves, but slavery continued until the end of the Civil War. Without the efforts of Wilberforce tenacity and courage the entire world would still be living in the dark ages without freedom and liberty. Wilberforce’s story is inspired in the film Amazing Grace. The music from the soundtrack includes Chris Tomlin’s title song written by the former slave trader turned preacher and hymnist, John Newton. The story and the song are parallel of the two lives living in the same time in history that were moved by the captives of injustice. Both are an inspiration to all of us that God is always at work in our lives and brings us to him through the saving grace of his only son Jesus Christ.
In the letter to Philemon found in the New Testament, Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus a runaway slave as a brother in Christ. The letter answers the question that Christian brotherly love really works, even in situations of unbearable tension and difficulty. The same works between a prominent slave owner and his runaway slave. Without doubt, Paul writes his letter to Philemon his brother in Christ and fellow worker on behalf of Onesimus-a deserter and thief, but as a Christian brother with such tact and tenderness. He asked Philemon to receive Onesimus back with the same gentleness which he received Paul. Any debt Onesimus owed, Paul would pay the debt. The same debt we owed for our sins we could never pay off, which Jesus paid our debt in full on the cross at Calvary (in Hebrew, Golgotha). Like Paul, let us be confident that brotherly love and forgiveness will carry us through another day.
As Paul addressed his letter to Philemon he writes:
Despite our modern society, our outlook on the equality of human life, and the abolishment of widespread slave trade, slavery still exists in the world today. In World War II, Nazi Germany followed the old practice of making slaves of conquered people. Russia and Communist countries began using political prisoners for forced labor, a form of slavery. The Anti-Slavery Society, a British organization, has reported that slave trade still thrives in Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, and parts of South America. In our present time, the church experiences a kind of slavery in the secular world. We are living in a time of hostility and ignorance. The church in countries that are ruled by a Moslem or totalitarian government suffer heavy persecution. In African countries like Sudan, Arab terrorists sponsored by the country’s government attack Christian villages. These Christians are brutally and savagely killed, beaten, raped and tortured. Survivors are taken to military camps where they are sold into slavery. Those who escape end up starving to death. These travesties cannot go on forever. God created man in his own image. When man rebelled against God, he lost his freedom to live a sinless life. The sin of this world makes us all slaves. That’s why Jesus Christ came to set us all free from sin through his blood bought sacrifice. Radical religion only brings slavery, discrimination, and war. Christ Jesus brings equality to all men, freedom, and peace. For this reason the Lord will bring with him the Kingdom of God and his reward is with him. Evil will be judged and justice and peace will prevail. This is the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ.
William’s third son Samuel Wilberforce gave new vitality to the Church of England. As bishop of Oxford and then of Winchester, he held key positions during the crisis created by the conversion of John Henry Newman to the Roman Catholic Church. Wilberforce stood outside the Tractarian (Oxford) Movement. But he advocated strengthening the Church of England ritual and tradition. Through this revival of the Church, Wilberforce and the other Anglican leaders, John Keble (1792-1866) and Edward B. Pusey (1800-1882) showed the people the evils of their indifference and ignorance. Wilberforce was in great demand as a speaker. Bishop Wilberforce was born in London on Sept. 7, 1805. The Oxford Movement had great influence upon the Anglican world, including the Episcopal Church in the United States. It revived the faith in the church as a divine society, not to be controlled by the state. It made the pastor’s office important and extended the church’s work among the poor. It awakened the church to a broader view of their power and duty. Most of this work was published in a notable book called Light of the World (Lux Mundi), edited by Charles Gore. The church was more than just an institution, that it had privileges, sacraments, a ministry ordained by Christ, that it was a matter of high obligation to remain united with the Church. It’s through the saving grace of Christ that gave the church, made up of God’s people, its freedom. God has not forgot his people of the Promise Land contrary to what others say that he has. There will be a time that God will save the Jewish people as he had in past history. God’s people are not slaves to this world. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17). When Jesus saved us he set us free from the bondage of sin. One day in the coming kingdom all things will be reconciled just as William Wilberforce hoped it would be.
Oh the unspeakable greatness of that exchange-
The Sinless One is condemned, and he who is guilty goes free;
The Blessings bear the curse, and the cursed is brought into blessing;
The Life dies, and the dead live;
The Glory is whelmed in darkness, but he who knew nothing but confusion of face is clothed with Glory.
Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) the British leader in the pottery industry and anti-slavery activist created a black cameo relief on a white background of a kneeling slave with the inscription, “Created in the image of God. I’m I not a brother?”
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. – Colossians 3:11
KJV Holy Bible. Philemon. Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Wilberforce, William. Real Christianity. Revised and updated by Bob Beltz.
©2007, Teresa Carr. Almost Midnight Communications & Mega Grafx® Studio.
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